Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Visual Instructional Plans

I've mentioned previously that I am reading Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones. I have to admit, that I wish this had been the text my undergrad management class required instead of The First Days of School. While I love me some Harry Wong, Freddy-boy just knocks it out of the ballpark. He does. Of course, its very likely that I'm getting so much more out of it because in reading some of it, I can nod and say "yup, that was my class this year alright."

It's over 300 pages worth of teachery goodness. Dr. Jones is very frank about what we as teachers do, even with the best of intentions, that set ourselves up for the little (and sometimes big) fires we deal with in our classrooms.

One of my favorite chapters right now is Chapter 7 in which he talks about the Visual Instructional Plan. So much of what he talks about is weaning the children who are "helpless handraisers" from needing your presence. I've had multiple of those over the years. They can't (won't) do anything unless you are standing right there giving them the eagle eye and if you give in, the rest of the class is going crazy within a minute. The VIP makes sense.

I am all about visuals, especially over the last couple of years when my focus has been with ELL students. This plan, however, really provides a visual reference for every student at every stage of the process. He uses a lot of math examples because math is full of computation and therefore is usually done in step-by-step format. He also admitted, however, that one year he was teaching graduate students and failed to give an appropriate plan and while the work he received was great, there were huge gaps in all of the papers from these students. Thus, using a VIP, be it a poster or a handout provides every single student with a step-by-step format of what they are supposed to be doing.

I can definitely see this working when I teach lattice multiplication or any of the "partial" operations that are infamous in the Everyday Math program. The children tend to get stuck in the middle because they have then forgotten what comes next. Providing the step-by-step visual prevents helpless handraising too because if a child needs help, you can prompt them on the step they are on, refer them to the VIP and then scoot off to continue monitoring the rest of the room.

Many of our classrooms, especially in our new buildings but most of the older ones have added this technology as well, are equipped with ELMO document cameras and laptops for the teachers. This is great because you can zoom in on whatever you have on the document camera and ensure that every child can see what you are doing (something I always hated about the overhead -- some of the kiddos on the sides or toward the back just couldn't see very well). This makes it way too easy to get lazy and sit at the tech desk (where the ELMO is) while you teach, which makes it so easy for the children to start getting rowdy.

I have always been a "working the room" kind of teacher, wandering through the children, offering praise or pointing out a spot where they might want to recheck. It's a little harder to do that when we're doing something that requires me to write on the ELMO pad but I've made it work. One trick I sometimes do is keep the screen up and then write on on the actual board so all of the children can still see what we're doing but its easier for me to offer step-by-step guidance yet work the room at the same time.

I am definitely seeing areas in this text that are going to allow me to tweak my craft. I'm happy to know that I'm not totally screwing up. [Honestly I have never had anyone question my ability to manage a classroom until this year with the class from Hades.] I can see how I've used some of these ideas and how I can tweak them to make them more effective and/or make things more consistent for myself and my students.

I'm only halfway through this book and I think that it may just become my new teaching Bible.


  1. Just found your site; I hope you are still here! I am in the midst of reading Tools for Teaching now and about to go into my 2nd year teaching. I googled "example Visual Instruction Plans". One of my only criticisms of Fred's book--I also think it is a godsend--is that his examples are almost always math; I am a Language Arts, Social Studies teacher. I have more than a little trepidation about being able to check students work quickly and well while "working the crowd" because so much of what I do involves writing where the errors don't present themselves as obviously. Anyway, I was hoping I might find what other humanities-type teachers using Fred's methods have done. Thanks for your site!

  2. Hello!

    You are right -- it's harder to check work quickly and work the room when you're dealing with a subject that doesn't have certain step-by-step problems like in math. I teach elementary so it is a little different than middle/high school but I found that I was able to spend up to 45 seconds with a student (which doesn't seem like much but seriously, time it, it is longer than we think!) to provide feedback and still work the room accurately. You aren't going to be able to do it the way a math teacher would....but you can find ONE area to focus on in your quick checks and it makes it easier.

    For example, if the students are working on a grammar activity, you can tell them that you'll be spot checking for one part of the focus lesson and quickly check that over your shoulder as you work the room. I think, as with anything else, you have to make it work for you and your students. Tweak their ideas so that they DO work for you :)

  3. I wish there was a bank of VIP's, I was a Job Coach, then a Para, I now student teach and am soon to be an elementary teacher. Having a bank of VIP's to start with would be awesome.